June 24, 2024

Evaluation of Human Interactions with a Provisioned Wild Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) near Sarasota Bay, Florida, and Efforts to Curtail the Interactions


Petra Cunningham-Smith, Debborah E. Colbert, Randall S. Wells, Todd Speakman


Abstract: Boaters have provisioned a free-ranging bottlenose male dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) for more than 15 years near Nokomis, Florida. The dolphin is a well-known attraction to tourists and local boaters because of his predictable presence in a narrow section of the Intracoastal Waterway near the Albee Road Bridge. Observations and records collected since 1990 documented this animal being fed by and interacting with humans, sometimes resulting in injury to the humans attempting to touch, feed, or swim with it. We initiated a study in 1997 to document the dolphin’s interactions with boaters, to characterize the frequency and types of boater interactions with the animal, and to evaluate the effectiveness of public education and enforcement efforts to curtail these illegal activities. The project consisted of three phases: (1) a baseline study, (2) a docent program, and (3) a follow-up study. Approximately 26% of the 1,797 interactions observed during the baseline study involved touching, teasing, or splashing, and 11% of interactions involved feeding. The docent program involved increased signage and the operation of a marked vessel to shadow the dolphin, monitor the types and frequencies of interactions, and offer educational materials about responsible wildlife viewing. Only 1.3% of boaters interacted with the dolphin in the presence of the docents; more than half of those questioned indicated that they were aware of the illegality of their actions. During follow-up observations to assess the effectiveness of the docent program and minimally increased law enforcement efforts, boater interactions with the dolphin increased by 5% after docent discussions. The docent and follow-up studies demonstrated that a small segment of the boating public continue to interact with the dolphin in spite of highly visible public education efforts. Increased law enforcement efforts, including the application of well-publicized punitive sanctions, may be required to bring about a further reduction in dolphin-human interactions in this area.


Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.32.3.2006.346

Page Numbers: 346 – 356

Info SKU: Vol__32__Iss__3__Cunningham-Smith_ Category: